Graduating with no debt, a full-time job and a bright future

  • Andrew Allard, 19, of Franklin gets introduced before his speech at the New Hampshire Technical Institute graduation in Concord on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Andrew Allard, 19, of Franklin speaks at the New Hampshire Technical Institute graduation in Concord on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, May 19, 2017

Andrew Allard of Franklin was 15 when he took his first class at NHTI, three years after he started reading his dad’s old engineering textbooks.

Not only was he years younger than his classmates, but he’d been homeschooled to that point, so his first community college class was also his introduction to public school.

At first, he didn’t tell his peers his age, he said, and apparently his inexperience didn’t betray him, because “late in semester one, one of my classmates asked me what I drive.”

The then-15-year-old replied, “Whatever my mom takes.”

Now 19, Allard earned his associate’s degree in electrical engineering Friday alongside 601 other graduates on a sunny day at the riverside campus in Concord. He has a full-time job in his field, no debt, and, yes, a driver’s license, too.

Allard was also honored with the president’s award for outstanding citizenship in recognition of his mentorship toward other students and his work rebuilding and upgrading a long-broken solar panel outside Little Hall.

That solar panel, about two stories tall and originally built by two professors, is supposed to tilt with the sun to soak up as much energy as possible. It never did, Allard said, until one of his professors challenged him to fix it in 2015.

“We found a broken wire, some miswired limit switches, a dead motor, a capacitor that needed moving, all kinds of fun stuff,” he said. “It helped me really hone my troubleshooting skills.”

And that’s just the physical part. He also spent months writing code that would retrieve the data and display it on a TV in a campus common area, where a live graph compares the energy generated by the tracking panel, compared with a stationary one.

“I’d never programmed in C# before, so that was interesting to learn,” Allard said.

His experience fixing up the solar panel helped him land a full-time job as a lab technician at Allegro MicroSystems in Manchester, where he spends his time putting integrated circuit chips through extreme tests to break them and therefore learn how to improve them.

Allard always kept up working as much as he could while studying, which explains why it took more than the standard two years for his associate’s degree. Even after graduation, he’s still taking another class at NHTI on differential equations, and has his sights set on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the fall of 2018 to continue his education.

Eventually, he said he wants to end up “somewhere between complete hardware and complete software. I want to be doing things with actual hardware, and not just writing code all day.”

But his first step was through NHTI, just like his mother, who studied accounting there, and his father, who studied electrical engineering.

His mother, Jennie Allard, said unlike her husband, she got involved with clubs when she was at the school, so she encouraged her son in his work as an orientation leader, a tutor and chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers club.

“He’s just made a point of getting to know everyone,” she said. “When I went to the campus to drop something off, all I had to do is say ‘I’m Andrew’s mom,’ I found out, and they knew where he was.”

But there was also a way in which he took after his father, Andrew noted. He enjoyed sticking around after he finished his work at the lab to help his classmates.

“I had a blast going around, trying to help people troubleshoot their work,” he said. “My mom would end up waiting in the library an hour after the lab was supposed to get out.”

Allard said his mom would ask him where he’d been, but she probably already knew the answer, he said, because she used to wait up for his father in the same way.

Coincidentally, the textbooks Allard’s father carried around campus back then helped to start his son on the same track.

“He figured I’d read a little bit and then get bored with it,” Allard told his classmates in a speech Friday. “Boy, was he wrong.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)